London

'Stop this madness': St. James highrise development draws ire of neighbourhood nature enthusiasts

Nearly two dozen residents protested against a 13-storey highrise development in their neighbourhood.

The wooded property is home to all kinds of wildlife, residents say

John Taylor is trying to stop a developer from cutting down mature trees next to his apartment building on the corner of St. James Street and Talbot Street. (Liny Lamberink/CBC London)

There's a little oasis nestled between 1 Grosvenor St. and the Thames River.

It's a sprawling, grassy area, enclosed by mature trees and populated by birds, squirrels, toads, hawks and sometimes even deer – according to people who live in the Old North neighbourhood.  

Nearly two dozen of those residents stood at the corner of St. James Street and Talbot Street Monday evening, voicing their frustration with the property owner's plans to turn the natural space into a 13-storey highrise development.

People living in the Old North neighbourhood say the land is home to all kinds of wildlife, including this toad. (Liny Lamberink/CBC London)

"Developers are about to cut down 75 of these beautiful trees," said John Taylor, who lives at 1 Grosvenor St. and organized the quiet demonstration.

The Grosvenor Development Corporation plans on turning the southwest portion of the 123 St. James St. and 112 St. James St. properties into a 122-unit apartment building. The land was previously rezoned to allow for low- and highrise development as an amendment to the city's 1989 Official Plan.

"I often walk down here, around the river, and it's just permanent bird song all the time," explained Diana Anstead, another resident of 1 Grosvenor St. "The noise and the clutter of building the building will drive some away."

Ken Owen, the president of the St. George Grosvenor Neighbourhood Association, feels he has achieved some concessions with the developer since learning about their plans in December.

This property, seen from the corner of 1 Grosvenor St., is slated to become a 13-storey highrise building. (Liny Lamberink/CBC London)

He says those concessions have to do with the scale of the development, traffic impacts and garbage collection. Owen also raised issue, on behalf of his association's 150 members, about the potential loss of trees.

"We were assured they would save as many trees as they could," he said. "They didn't put a number on it, it was very hard to see from the landscape plans that were proposed what would be impacted. They assured us they would be planting more trees than they would take out."

It's not an ideal resolution, because new trees take several years to reach the same level of maturity as the ones that'll be lost, explained Owen.

But he feels the association "pushed the issue as far as we could," and that there's been an attempt by the owner to create a "development of quality."

Taylor, on the other hand, took issue with the city's approach to residential building more broadly. He plans to visit city hall Tuesday, to learn more about an appeal-filing process. 

"Stop this madness," he said. "The entire city is being destroyed."

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